PARTICIPATORY SPORT FOR CRAFT ARTISTS
Being an incredibly talented artist or designer is not enough to make it in today’s marketplace. You also have to have a clear understanding of who your customer is, how to market to them, and what compels them to make a purchase.
Whether you are just starting out or have been in business for a while the Voice of the Customer (VOC) technique can help you build your customer base and learn valuable information that will help your business thrive.
VOC is a versatile tool that can be utilized by anyone or any business including schools, galleries, museums, art organizations, and my favorite, artist entrepreneurs. During the past 2 years I’ve conducted 250+ VOC interviews for my own business and a variety of consulting, volunteer and fundraising projects. The information I’ve learned and applied from these interviews is a key factor in the significant success of my business and outside projects.
The Voice of the Customer Technique
Step 1: Be clear about what you want and your unique point of view as an artist or designer.
What major themes, concepts, and techniques are part of your work? Do you want to focus on one-of-a-kind work, production work or a hybrid of the two? Do you want to sell your work directly (retailing) or are you interested in being represented by a gallery or other venue (wholesaling)? Occasionally the customers for each type of work will overlap, but when conducting VOCs focusing on one group of customers will help you ask consistent open-ended questions that enable you to find a useful pattern in the information provided by your interviewees. If you have multiple interests you can always conduct a specific set of VOC interviews for each customer category.
Step 2: Identify Your Customer
Your customer is the person or business who pays you directly for the work you do. Who comes to mind as your ideal or favorite customers? What aspects about their personality, demographics, interests, or circumstances make them your ideal customers? Is there a pattern in this basic information? How many people or businesses do you know who fit this description? Do you know anyone who has connections to the people or business who fit the description of your ideal customer?
Step 3: Ask for the Interview
Asking for a VOC interview is not as hard as it sounds. If your correspondence is polite and professional you should have no problem in scheduling a meeting. Your goal in these interviews is purely informational and to learn more. These meetings are NOT a sales pitch for your work. However your interviewee may ask about or offer to give feedback on your work so having a few professional images on hand or if you make wearable pieces, wearing a piece to the meeting is very smart and speaks to your professionalism. Here’s a few tips that will help you in your ask.
Step 4: During the Interview
Treat the VOC interview process the same as you would any job interview.
Step 5: After the interview, send a hand written thank-you note.
The little bit of extra effort that goes into a snail mail note speaks volumes about how much you truly appreciate your interviewee and their willingness to help you. A careful review of your meeting notes is also necessary. What new things did you learn? Were any of your assumptions challenged? After 10 or more interviews are there any common topics that came up?
Real life testimonial:
Mastering the VOC technique has enabled me to build a significant and mighty customer base without investing ten of thousands of dollars on booth fees and schlepping my work around hoping to find the right customers. The VOC technique has also helped me be very strategic in my pursuits and gain a huge level of clarity about my customer niche including where they go to buy, what they read, how to market to them, what motivates their purchases, and how to price my work specifically for them. Here’s a hint if you’re using the formula of raw material + labor + overhead + profit x 2 = wholesale x 2 = retail aka Cost Plus Pricing, you’re probably cutting yourself short.
Here to help:
The focuses of this particular post were on how artist entrepreneurs can use the Voice of the Customer interview technique for building and expanding their customer base and finding their niche in the marketplace. Like any great tool VOC is adaptable to a variety of situations. I’m happy to work with all of my eMERGE readers and help each of you customize the VOC process to your specific needs; especially if you are an established or emerging artist, educator looking to attract more of the best and brightest students, art organization looking for more of your ideal members and donors, or gallery looking for more customers and collectors. I can be reached via my Crafthaus profile or directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks so much for reading,
There is a lot of ground which you cover here. I appreciate it that you put this piece here. Is this kind of meeting something that you initiate yourself? Or is this part of a bigger organisation were you can ask for a interview?
I had till now not hear of this technique and are intruiged by it. It never occured to me that I indeed could do that kind of conversations myself!
Helga van Leipsig
So glad you enjoyed this post. Individuals (including students at all levels) and larger organizations can both use the Voice of the Customer technique, pretty empowering isn't it.
I hadn't heard of the VOC technique until I began the MBA Entrepreneurship program at Baldwin-Wallace College. Like I mentioned in my post, mastering this tool and learning how various businesses of all sizes use it has been critical to my success and I know VOC can help others as well. There's a lot more about VOC that I could have gone into, but I didn't want to overwhelm anyone. I would be happy to have an extended conversation with you about how to incorporate it your business.
Thank you so much for this post, and the earlier one on expressing gratitude. Couldn't have come at a better time for me. I've just finished my Christmas craft fairs and was feeling that, although I'd done well enough on paper, that the cost in energy expended was pretty high. Your posts have helped me see how I could turn that around. In half an hour I've been able to create a list of more than 60 really good customers that I could serve better, and enjoy doing it! Michelle, thank you!
I'm so happy for you and proud of your hard work. It's wonderful to hear that all the time and effort that goes into crafting each eMERGE post is helping others succeed!!!
Meeting with those 60 customers over the course of 2012 will really help you gain incredible insights into how your customers think and feel (art is an emotional purchase afterall) about your work. I'll be happy to help you sort through all of the responses from your VOC meetings, so don't be afraid to ask.
Keep up the great work :-)